December 5, 2009

Suburban dad with his own business and prosperous home now a suspect in botched robbery and murder attempt

Driving up to the home of Thomas Paul Bennett, even at night, you would definitely think he has made a very nice life for himself. And that the 50-year-old builder is a very unlikely candidate to try to rob a jewelry store.

His contemporary ranch-style home sits on top of a hill, at the end of a long winding driveway. To get to his home, on a small cul-de-sac off Stone Valley Road, you pass other multi-million-dollar Alamo homes—faux Colonials, Cape Cods, Mediterranean villas—some twinkling with Christmas lights in the mist of a cold December night.

Yes, I took a short drive to Bennett’s house last night, after seeing that he owned a construction company, and that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry K. Lee, he lived in a $2.5 million house with Mt. Diablo Views and flew his own private plane. Of course, something very terrible must have been going on in his life for him, according to Contra Costa Sheriff’s investigators, to arm himself with a gun Thursday night and attempt to hold up a small jewelry store in his hometown.

As you’ve read here and in other news accounts, that attempted heist ended up with Bennett allegedly exchanging gunfire with the owner of Alamo Jewelry Mart in the Alamo Plaza shopping center. The store’s owner, Oscar Herrera, 53, of Hercules, was wounded in the upper torso. Late Friday, Herrera was listed in critical condition. Bennett was also wounded in the shoot-out, but initially refused to come out of the store.

Sheriff’s deputies say they found him, standing in the doorway of the store, holding a gun to his head and threatening suicide. Although wounded in the neck, mouth and wrist, he initially refused to come out and an hour-long standoff ensued with deputies finally talking him into surrendering. As of Friday, he was also in the hospital, and under arrest on suspicion of robbery and attempted murder.

And on Friday night, several Sheriff’s cars were crowded into the cul-de-sac below the home he shared with his wife, daughter and son, and from where he operates his Bennett Construction, according to the San Francisco Chroncile.

A couple, relatives of Bennett, emerged from the house, descended the driveway and got into the car. They said the family was declining comment: “Our family is going through a lot right now.”

I told them I was sorry. Some would say my sympathy is misplaced, that it should be with Oscar Herrera and his family. Well, I’m sorry for both of them and their families. Some would also say I was being intrusive and voyeuristic, driving up to Bennett’s house, maybe hoping to talk to someone, but a reporter’s habits die hard. The Chronicle added that in Bennett’s driveway was a boat and a pickup truck with National Rifle Association and Air Force Academy stickers.

Sheriff’s Captain Dan Terry said Bennett had been dealing with financial problems, but doesn’t know yet whether that was the motive in this incident. Terry also told the Chronicle that Bennett and Herrera had "at least one prior contact with each other" before Thursday's shootout. "It appears there might even be some kind of association here," he said. But again, it’s still not clear whether that association had anything to do with the robbery.

An online advertisement for Bennett Construction says the family-owned company has been in business since 1992. It specializes in window and door installation. “We will handle your project with the utmost care.” The ad also says the owner loves to work in this area and, in his spare time, loves working on his own home. A customer praised the company: “Just that thepeople were very nice, professional, great attention to details. Referred them to anyone, very good.”


Anonymous said...

wow, I was waiting for you to say "because of the current economic crisis.." -that is why he robbed a jewelry store and almost killed someone.
wish you would focus more on the guy that almost got killed. why do you have so much sympathy for this guy. There are a lot of people affected by the economic crisis...but 99.9% of them don't go hold up stores and try to kill people. This guy is crazy - pure and simple.
Stop painting such a "he's a great guy, with a great family, just got hurt by the crisis" - he's a loser!

MickeyMartin said...

I think your exploration of the motive of this crime from what is seemingly a normal and successful member of our community is commendable. People who choose to condemn people they do not know for actions they cannot explain are part of the lunatic fringe IMO. Yes. His actions were appalling, but why? It is a shame for everyone. I am sure he did not aspire to rob a jewelry store in his life. No one does. His mental state must have been seriously altered for whatever reason and that is a shame. What kills me is that the people who choose to play judge, jury, and executioner are usually the people who need to find compassion the most.

Anonymous said...

What a nut job.

Anonymous said...

Ching Chong Bing Bong,

Arl your gord are berong to us.

Anonymous said...

As the old saying goes, "money is the root of all evil".

Living beyond your means by continuing to live the high life during economic down times is foolish and eventually catches up with everyone who chooses this path. Very large and opulent home complete with a well stocked wine cellar, boat, 1/2 ownership of an airplane, playing high stakes poker....hmmmmm, sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Reportedly a nice guy but somehow Bennett got his wires crossed and now must pay the price for his choices in life.

Mickey,to say that no one aspires to rob a jewelry store in life is really silly.....happens everyday in cities all over the world. Just look at the history of the two "loving and caring" people who burgled the home in Sonoma of the family who were killed by another "caring and loving" person last Saturday night. Please don't make excuses or shed any tears for people who don't take responsibility for their lifestyle and how it affects others. Immorality and greed do not really qualify as "seriously altered mental states".

Anonymous said...

Soccer Mom:

Rumors have it that Mr. Bennett was strapped for cash and went back to try to get money for jewelry he had previously purchased from Mr. Herrera, who would not buy back the jewelry. Apparently not willing to accept "no" for an answer, Bennett went home, armed himself, and came back to the jewelry store to confront Mr. Herrera. Any chance you might follow-up on that story?

Anonymous said...

I have maintained Bennett's airplane in the past, and it is not a private jet, or anything extravagant(current value may be $80,000). He partnered with another individual to purchase the plane, and to pay for reoccurring costs.
He broke the law, and should pay the penalty regardless of the reasons. We often get into trouble as a society when we rationalize, or try and make excuses for other peoples mistakes.
Money is not the "root of all evil". Money is simply a unit of exchange.
Greed isn't evil either. Just ask Henry Ford.